Cultural Memory and Literature

Re-Imagining Australia's Past


Cultural memory involves a community’s shared memories, the selection of which is based on current political and social needs. A past that is significant to a national group is re-imagined by generating new meanings that replace earlier certainties and fixed symbols or myths. This creates literary syncretisms with moments of undecidability. The analysis in this book draws on Renate Lachmann’s theory of intertextuality to show how novels that blur boundaries without standing in for history are prone to intervene in cultural memory.
A brief overview of Aboriginal politics between the 1920s and the 1990s in relation to several novels provides historical and political background to the links between, and problems associated with, cultural memory, testimony, trauma, and Stolen Generations narratives, which are discussed in relation to Sally Morgan’s My Place and Doris Pilkington’s Rabbit-Proof Fence. There follows an analysis of novels that respond to the history of contact between Aboriginal and settler Australians, including Kate Grenville’s historical novels The Secret River, The Lieutenant, and Sarah Thornhill as examples of a traditional approach. David Malouf’s Remembering Babylon charts how language and naming defined our early national narrative that excluded Aboriginal people.
Intertextuality is explored via the relation between Thea Astley’s The Multiple Effects of Rainshadow, Chloe Hooper’s The Tall Man, and the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Kim Scott’s Benang: from the heart and That Deadman Dance and Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria reflect a number of Lachmann’s concepts – syncretism, dialogism, polyphony, Menippean satire, and the carnivalesque.
Suggested is a new way of reading novels that respond to Australia’s violent past beyond trauma studies and postcolonial theory to re-imagine a different, syncretic past from multiple perspectives.

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Biographical Note

Diane Molloy has a doctorate in literature from Monash University, Australia. Her publications and research interests include Australian and German literary responses to the past, and the production and preservation of cultural memory.

Table of contents

Memory and Literature
Literary Forms and Cultural Memory
Australian Politics and Literature
Memory, Testimony, and Trauma
Stolen Generations Literature: My Place and Rabbit-Proof Fence
Historical Fiction: The Secret Rive r, The Lieutenant, and Sarah Thornhill
Naming and Memory Places: Remembering Babylon
Intertextuality: The Multiple Effects of Rainshadow and The Tall Man
Menippean Satire and Polyphony: Benang: from the heart and That Deadman Dance
Carnivalesque: Carpentaria
Works Cited


Students and scholars interested in the juncture between Australian literature and history, in particular the history of contact between Indigenous and settler Australians.